The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Archive for June, 2009

Old Moon Landing Tapes Found – Conspiracy Nuts Still Lost

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 28, 2009

**Update: There is some question as to the validity of the story that new tapes of the Apollo 11 landing have been discovered and that the news story itself might be a hoax.  Read more about it at this entry on the Bad Astronomy blog. Note that my criticisms of the anti-moon landing conspiracy theorists still stand.

I just read this really cool story — World Exclusive: NASA Finds Missing Moon Landing Tapes. As the article states…

ECSTATIC space officials at Nasa could be about to unveil one of their most stunning discoveries for 40 years — new and amazingly clear footage of the first moon landing.

The release of the new images next month could be one of the most talked about events of the summer.

The television images the world has been used to seeing of the historic moment when Neil Armstrong descended down a ladder onto the moon’s surface in 1969 is grainy, blurry and dark.

The following scenes, in which the astronauts move around the lunar lander, are so murky it is difficult to make out exactly what is going on, causing conspiracy theorists to claim the entire Apollo 11 mission was an elaborate fraud.

Here is the current footage we have of the Apollo 11 landing to which the article is referring available on Youtube…

600px-Aldrin_Apollo_11

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in conspiracy theories, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

British Chiropractors in Retreat

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 27, 2009

In an update on the ongoing legal battle between Dr. Simon Singh and the British Chiropractic Association, it seems that there has been a strong public backlash against the chiropractors.  In fact, due to press about this conflict & the diligence of people reporting the more outlandish claims of chiropractors – such as that their treatments can cure a variety of diseases – the McTimoney Chiropractic Association has issued the following warning to its members in a letter…

Date: 8 June 2009 09:12:18 BDT

Subject: FURTHER URGENT ACTION REQUIRED!

Dear Member

If you are reading this, we assume you have also read the urgent email we sent you last Friday. If you did not read it, READ IT VERY CAREFULLY NOW and – this is most important – ACT ON IT. This is not scaremongering. We judge this to be a real threat to you and your practice.

Because of what we consider to be a witch hunt against chiropractors, we are now issuing the following advice:

The target of the campaigners is now any claims for treatment that cannot be substantiated with chiropractic research. The safest thing for everyone to do is as follows.

  1. If you have a website, take it down NOW.

When you have done that, please let us know preferably by email or by phone. This will save our valuable time chasing you to see whether it has been done.

  1. REMOVE all the blue MCA patient information leaflets, or any patient information leaflets of your own that state you treat whiplash, colic or other childhood problems in your clinic or at any other site where they might be displayed with your contact details on them. DO NOT USE them until further notice. The MCA are working on an interim replacement leaflet which will be sent to you shortly.
  1. If you have not done so already, enter your name followed by the word ‘chiropractor’ into a search engine such as Google (e.g. Joe Bloggs chiropractor) and you will be able to ascertain what information about you is in the public domain e.g. where you might be listed using the Doctor title or where you might be linked with a website which might implicate you. We have found that even if you do not have a website yourself you may still have been linked inadvertently to a website listing you or your services.

CHECK ALL ENTRIES CAREFULLY AND IF IN DOUBT, CONTACT THE RELEVANT PROVIDER TO REMOVE YOUR INFORMATION.

CHECK OUR PREVIOUS EMAILS FOR SPECIFIC ADVICE AND KEY WORDS TO AVOID.

KEEP A LOG OF YOUR ACTIONS.

  1. If you use business cards or other stationery using the ‘doctor’ title and it does not clearly state that you are a doctor of chiropractic or that you are not a registered medical practitioner, STOP USING THEM immediately.

5. Be wary of ‘mystery shopper’ phone calls and ‘drop ins’ to your practice, especially if they start asking about your care of children, or whiplash, or your evidence base for practice.

IF YOU DO NOT FOLLOW THIS ADVICE, YOU MAY BE AT RISK FROM PROSECUTION.

IF YOU DO NOT FOLLOW THIS ADVICE, THE MCA MAY NOT BE ABLE TO ASSIST YOU WITH ANY PROCEEDINGS.

Although this advice may seem extreme or alarmist, its purpose is to protect you. The campaigners have a target of making a complaint against every chiropractor in the UK who they perceive to be in breach of the GCC’s CoP, the Advertising Standards Code and/or Trading Standards. We have discovered that complaints against more than 500 individual chiropractors have been sent to the GCC in the last 24 hours.

Whatever you do, do not ignore this email and make yourself one of the victims. Some of our members have not followed our earlier advice and now have complaints made against them. We do not want that to happen to you.

Even if you do not have a website, you are still at risk. Our latest information suggests that this group are now going through Yellow Pages entries. Be in no doubt, their intention is to scrutinise every single chiropractor in the UK.

The MCA Executive has worked tirelessly over the last week keeping abreast of development and contacting at risk members. We have decided that this is our best course of action to protect you and the Association at this time of heightened tension. This advice is given to you solely to protect you from what we believe is a concerted campaign, and does not imply any wrongdoing on your part or the part of the Association. We believe that our best course of action is simply to withdraw from the battleground until this latest wave of targeting is over.

Finally, we strongly suggest you do NOT discuss this with others, especially patients, Firstly it would not be ethical to burden patients with this, though if they ask we hope you now have information with which you can respond.

Most importantly, this email and all correspondence from the MCA is confidential advice to MCA members alone, and should not be shared with anyone else.

Please be aware that the office phone lines are likely to be busy, so, if you need our help, please send an email to the office and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

Yours,

Berni Martin

MCA Chair.

Best wishes,

Nicki

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Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Baloney Detection Kit

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 24, 2009

There is a video out from the Richard Dawkins Foundation featuring Dr. Michael Shermer called The Baloney Detection Kit. This is a quick 15 minute Youtube video which outlines the basics of skeptical & scientific thinking.  Give it a quick look and pass it on…

Posted in scientific method, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Power of Prayer… Fails

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 22, 2009

We have all heard on numerous occasions about “the power of prayer” to heal the sick & dying.  Stories abound about supposedly miraculous recoveries that are attributed to intercessory prayer – that is, prayer on behalf of someone else who is ill.  Sadly, the reality is that the power of prayer… fails.

Case in point: a couple in Oregon is facing jail for relying only upon prayer to cure their child of pneumonia.  It seems that whomever they were talking to wasn’t listening, because the kid died.

Parents face jail for praying instead of getting doctor for baby

A US judge has rejected defence arguments that claimed selective and vindictive prosecution in the manslaughter trial of a couple whose 15-month-old daughter died of pneumonia while they prayed for her recovery.

Clackamas County Circuit Judge Steven Maurer told lawyers for Carl and Raylene Worthington that he had already determined the Oregon City couple had a duty to seek medical care for their daughter, Ava, despite their religious beliefs.

“There are limits, especially when it comes to the protection of young children,” Maurer said.

The couple face manslaughter charges in the death of Ava, who died of pneumonia in March 2008. A state medical examiner has said she could have been treated with antibiotics.

Now, don’t get me wrong here.  Though I am an atheist, I can understand people wanting to pray to make themselves feel better in times of great stress, such as during the hospitalization of themselves or a loved one.  I was in the hospital recently myself, and a colleague of mine called me – he told me that he’d pray for me, and I thanked him.  I didn’t thank him because I thought his prayers would help at all (they don’t), but I instead thanked him because it showed me that he cared about me.  But this is beside the main point of this entry.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Happy Solstice!

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 21, 2009

Happy Solstice everyone!  It might seem a strange thing to be celebrating, this specific position of Earth in its orbit around the sun, but we skeptics have our reasons.  This, of course, has to do with the old myth of being able to balance eggs on their ends only during either the vernal (spring) or autumnal equinox – of course, all references are in regards to the northern hemisphere.

But wait, it’s not the equinox, so why bring up this myth now?  To debunk it, of course.  According to adherents of this myth, usually the same folks who are into astrology-related woo, during the equinoxes “things line up cosmically” (probably some misunderstood reference to the fact that the length of day & night are the same), and this should result in the capability to stand eggs on their ends.

The funny thing about this particular myth is that it contains a kernel of truth… you can stand an egg on its end on the equinox, just as you can at any time of the year – even the solstices, as far away from the equinox as you can get.  Case in point, I just balanced three eggs on end in my kitchen…

Solstice Eggs

This supposedly “cosmic event” took me all of five minutes to accomplish – with a little practice, it’s easy to do. To understand why it is that eggs can be balanced in this manner, it is more helpful to look to the science of physics rather than the pseudoscience of astrology – this link at the Bad Astronomy blog explains in more detail.

So, the next time you hear someone make this loony claim, have a little fun with it – whip out the eggs and balance away!

Posted in astrology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Psychic Gets Scammed

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 17, 2009

This was just too funny, I had to share it.  Kind of like one of those “truth is stranger than fiction” sort of things.  It seems that uber-psychic & medium Rosemary Altea – who has for years touted her abilities as a psychic who can speak with the dead – got scammed out of roughly $200,000 by a bookkeeper…


Feds: Bookkeeper steals fortune from psychic

The former bookkeeper of an internationally known psychic from Dorset has agreed to plead guilty in court to federal felony charges levied against her by prosecutors who say she executed a scheme to swindle roughly $200,000.

Denise Hall of East Arlington faces one count of wire fraud and one count of filing a false tax return after investigators with the U.S. Attorney’s office say she stole money from self-proclaimed spiritual medium Rosemary Altea — using four credit cards to obtain cash advances, forging checks and giving herself unauthorized electronic paychecks all under Altea’s name for the past seven years, according to court records.

So, I suppose the most pertinent question to ask here is: Why didn’t Rosemary Altea, supposed master psychic, see this one coming?

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Posted in psychics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Crop Circles Predict… The End of the World?

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 17, 2009

Every now and then you run across a really silly bit of woo cross-fertilization.  Such is the case with a recent article in the UK’s Telegraph wherein the reader is told, in no uncertain terms…

Crop circle experts believe the latest pattern to be discovered, a phoenix rising from the flames in Wiltshire, may give a warning about the end of the world.

Are you kidding me?!  No, really… you must be kidding… right?  Because, knowing how these crop circles are made, no one in their right mind could seriously mean this.

Sadly, they aren’t kidding:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in aliens & UFOs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Defending Free Inquiry in Iran

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 16, 2009

I don’t usually delve into strictly political waters, but recent events in Iran have compelled me to share some important information with the readers of this blog.  One of the key things that drives all skeptics & scientifically-minded folk is the spirit of free inquiry.  Without the free flow of unfiltered information, science & skepticism in their purest & most useful forms wither.

Well, right now in Iran, there seems to be a revolution of sorts in the offing. There are huge protests, numbering in the 100s of thousands for days, alleging widespread & deep fraud on the part of the Iranian government and incumbent president & hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The challenger, a moderate politician named Mir Hossein Mousavi, is stating publicly that he will not accept the results of a fraudulent election, and he is demanding a revote.

Unfortunately, the Iranian government has responded violently to these protests, and they are also attempting to impose a media blackout.  This includes kicking foreign journalists out of the country and keeping them locked in their hotel rooms so they cannot cover the events unfolding in Iran.  In addition, the Iranian government is also attempting to silence dissent on the Internet by shutting down popular websites such as Twitter and Facebook.

This is where you can come in.  I found the following information on a thread at the JREF Forum:

If you have geek skills, an extra computer/server, and an interest in undermining fascist censorship, please help!  Here’s how you can set up an anonymous proxy server to help Iranians bypass the Internet barriers.

Windows
Linux
Mac OS X

AND…

There are people calling for anyone with a twitter account to change their location to Tehran and their time to +3:30 GMT in order to throw off government searches for Iranian students who are tweeting.

Please consider helping out; if you don’t have the skills necessary to set up a proxy server or set Twitter accounts, pass along this info to someone who can.  Help defend free inquiry in Iran!

Posted in free inquiry, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

It’s Crop Circle Season!

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 14, 2009

Well, most of us in the northern hemisphere would call it summer, but when it comes to woo, that’s the time of year that supposedly other-worldly crop circles start to pop up.  These wonderfully wrought works of purely terrestrial art often appear overnight in farmers’ fields, yielding a variety of incredible designs…

More interesting than the designs that various (completely human) circle-makers are able to come up with and implement is the fact that many people consider crop circles to be definitive evidence of visitations to Earth by aliens! Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

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Posted in aliens & UFOs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

$2.5 Billion Spent, No Alternative Cures Found

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 11, 2009

Well, since I’ve been bagging on the alt-med nonsense lately, I simply couldn’t pass up this headline.  And folks… the headline says it all… “No Alternative Cures Found”… Zilch… Nada… Zip… Zero!  Despite their inability to understand the most basic aspects of science and the associated math, I think that zero is a number that even alt-med woo-meisters can grasp :)

$2.5 billion spent, no alternative cures found

Big, government-funded studies show most work no better than placebos

Ten years ago the government set out to test herbal and other alternative health remedies to find the ones that work. After spending $2.5 billion, the disappointing answer seems to be that almost none of them do.

Echinacea for colds. Ginkgo biloba for memory. Glucosamine and chondroitin for arthritis. Black cohosh for menopausal hot flashes. Saw palmetto for prostate problems. Shark cartilage for cancer. All proved no better than dummy pills in big studies funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The lone exception: ginger capsules may help chemotherapy nausea.

As for therapies, acupuncture has been shown to help certain conditions, and yoga, massage, meditation and other relaxation methods may relieve symptoms like pain, anxiety and fatigue.

However, the government also is funding studies of purported energy fields, distance healing and other approaches that have little if any biological plausibility or scientific evidence.

Taxpayers are bankrolling studies of whether pressing various spots on your head can help with weight loss, whether brain waves emitted from a special “master” can help break cocaine addiction, and whether wearing magnets can help the painful wrist problem, carpal tunnel syndrome.

The acupressure weight-loss technique won a $2 million grant even though a small trial of it on 60 people found no statistically significant benefit — only an encouraging trend that could have occurred by chance. The researcher says the pilot study was just to see if the technique was feasible.

“You expect scientific thinking” at a federal science agency, said R. Barker Bausell, author of “Snake Oil Science” and a research methods expert at the University of Maryland, one of the agency’s top-funded research sites. “It’s become politically correct to investigate nonsense.”

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Posted in medical woo, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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